Ahmadiyya is a Muslim sect that does not recognize Mohammed as the last prophet. Members believe that the 19th century Punjabi Muslim reformer Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (c. 1839–1908), was a Messiah who claimed to have succeeded the Prophet Mohammed. Many Muslims regarded Ahmadis — the followers of Ahmadiyya — to be heretics for their belief that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a savior foretold by the Quran. Muslim leaders accused Ahmadis of defying the basic tenet of Islam that says Muhammad was the final prophet and God’s last direct messenger. Ahmadis insist they are Muslims and argue their leader was the savior or “subordinate prophet” rather than a prophet.

According to the 2017 provisional census results, Ahmadis make 0.22 percent of the population of Pakistan. Taking into account that some Ahmadis boycotted the official census, Pakistani sources put the number of Ahmadi Muslims at approximately 500,000-600,000. Several minority rights advocacy groups dispute these figures, saying they underrepresent their true numbers. Some sources say there may be 4 million Ahmadis in Pakistan. A U.S.-based Ahmadi spokesman, Waseem Sayed told Associated Press that there were around 5 million Ahmadis in Pakistan in 2010.. Worldwide he estimated there were tens of millions of Ahmadis. According to Reuters is 2020, “The sect has up to 20 million followers worldwide with about half a million in Pakistan.”

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: The Ahmadiyya are divided into two groups: the Qadiani, who are named after the birthplace of the founder and who claim that Ahmad was a recipient of divine revelation and a prophet (nabi); and the Lahori group, who accept Ahmad as an Islamic reformer rather than a messiah. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Ahmadi Beliefs

Myra MacDonald of Reuters wrote: The Ahmadis follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who in the town of Qadian in late 19th century British India called for a revival of a “true Islam” of peace and justice. His teachings were controversial with Muslims and Christians alike. He argued that Jesus did not die on the cross but escaped and travelled to India and was buried in Kashmir. And he claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus, destined to put Muslims back on the true path. [Source: Myra MacDonald, Reuters, July 15, 2011]

“Many Muslims were offended by the suggestion he had come as a prophet, breaching a basic tenet of Islam that there can be no prophet after Mohammad, whose teachings are believed to be based literally on the word of God, perfect and therefore final. Yet his call for peace, hard work, temperance, education and strong community bonds resonated, and over the years the proselytizing movement acquired millions of followers worldwide.

“Ahmadis follow two different schools of thinking, but will argue, often with detailed references to the Quran in both Arabic and English, that they do not dispute the finality of the Prophet Mohammad. Their erudite theological arguments, however, had little chance against the power of the street.”

Ahmadis Designated Non-Muslims by the Pakistan Government

The Pakistan Constitution forbids Ahmadis from calling themselves Muslims. In 1974, they were declared non-Muslims. In 1984 they were denied their right to practice their religion. The Almadiyya sect has been singled out for attacks. They have been declared infidels an many have been killed.

Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “No Pakistani minority is as victimized as the Ahmadis, who believe in Islam but are viewed by the rest of the country as heretics. Because they revere another prophet as well as the prophet Muhammad, the Pakistani government has declared Ahmadis “non-Muslims,” made it a crime for members to refer to their places of worship as mosques and even barred them from extending the common Muslim greeting, salaam aleykum. Ahmadis believe that their late-19th century founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet of God, a belief viewed as heresy by Pakistani Muslims who regard Muhammad as Islam’s final prophet. The sect’s marginalization was set into motion in 1974 when Pakistan’s parliament enacted the law branding Ahmadis as non-Muslims. The crackdown on the Ahmadis intensified in the 1980s during the rule of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, who ordered a maximum three-year prison term for any Ahmadi who called himself a Muslim, carried out the Muslim call to prayer or referred to an Ahmadi place of worship as a mosque. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010]

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices: As early as 1953 the group became a target of Sunni agitation. In 1974, to appease radical Muslims, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto legally declared the Ahmadiyya non-Muslims, depriving them of their right to worship. According to the 1973 constitution, the Ahmadiyya are subject to prosecution for blasphemy should they refer to themselves as Muslims, recite the oath kalima shahada, call their places of worship mosques, perform the call to prayer, recite verses of the Quran in public, or even use the traditional Islamic greeting "salam alaikum" in public. The Ahmadiyya leadership and many of its practitioners left Pakistan after their classification as non-Muslims. Those who remained have been the most frequent targets of the blasphemy laws. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Myra MacDonald of Reuters: Ahmadi “history has been intimately bound up in Pakistan’s own descent from its relatively optimistic birth. Lacking a coherent national identity, it has become a battleground for competing political, religious and ethnic groups seeking power by attacking others. “The mistake of the Ahmadis was that they showed their political strength,” said an Ahmadi businessman in Lahore. Better education he said, meant they obtained good positions in the army and civil service at first; strong community bonds made them an influential force in politics up to the 1970s. But they also made an easy target for the religious right who could whip up anti-Ahmadi sentiment for political gain. [Source: Myra MacDonald, Reuters, July 15, 2011]

After anti-Ahmadi violence, they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. In the 1980s, their humiliation was completed when legal provisions barred them from associating themselves with Islam, for example by using the call to prayer or naming their place of worship a “masjid” or mosque.“You can say you don’t consider me to be a Muslim but you can’t force me to also say I am not a Muslim,” complains Ahmed, the amir, the pain clear in his voice.

History of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad and the Ahmadis

Peter Gottschalk of Wesleyan University wrote: “The origin of the Ahmadi community goes back to the British-ruled India of 1889. At the time, in the province of Punjab (a region that would later be split between an independent India and Pakistan), a Muslim religious leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, became disenchanted with what he viewed as Muslim decadence that allowed for the humiliating experience of foreign rule. [Source: Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University, The Conversation, August 8, 2018]

“Like many Indians, he wondered what needed to change in order to overcome the invaders. Many European missionaries wanted to “free” Indians – both Muslims and Hindus – of what they characterized as their religious ignorance by bringing them to the “truth” of Christian traditions. With the British government’s consent, some traveled through cities and rural areas to publicly denounce Islamic and Hindu traditions, while others published pamphlets doing so.

“To restore the wholesomeness of Islamic traditions that had once influenced much of South Asia, Ghulam Ahmad reinterpreted branches of Islamic thought. He broadcast the message of reform through his prolific writing. Most prominently, he claimed to be both the Messiah and a prophet.Most Muslims believe that Isa, or Jesus – whom they recognize as a prophet akin to Muhammad – will return as a Messiah, a figure expected to prepare the world for Judgment Day. In contrast, Ghulam Ahmad claimed to displace Isa in this role and announced that the end times were near.

“What was more problematic, particularly to Islamic scholars, was his claim as a prophet. Most Muslims understand Muhammad as the “seal of the prophets,” the last sent by God. The Quran represents the final revelation offered to humanity by God. Ghulam Ahmad addressed these concerns by claiming to be a lesser type of prophet. His message attracted growing numbers of followers among Muslims struggling to deal with the realities of British rule. Many were drawn partly to his strident criticism of Christian missionaries and Hindu activists who denigrated them. In 1889 he inaugurated a small group called the Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya (the Organization of Ahmad), that helped spread his message.

Although some Ahmadis later turned away from their leader’s most disputed assertions, the Jamaat-i Ahmadiyya held steadfast to his claim to prophethood. This group viewed him as nothing less than the Messiah who had returned to help humanity as it faced its end. They made Rabwah, a town in Pakistan’s province of Punjab, their headquarters. During Ghulam Ahmad’s life, Islamic scholars expressed disapproval with other scholars or individual Ahmadis. However, in 1947, after Pakistan was established as a separate Muslim homeland, some Islamic scholars publicly attacked the theology of the Ahmadis. Various politicians harnessed the controversy to their nationalist politics.

Pakistan Turns Against the Ahmadis

Peter Gottschalk of Wesleyan University wrote: “The first major expression of anti-Ahmadi sentiment targeted an Ahmadi, Chaudhry Zafarullah Khan, who held the foreign minister’s post in 1953. Some Muslims circulated rumors that Ahmadis proselytized among Muslims and represented a Western-supported conspiracy. This spurred riots throughout the country in 1953 that led to six deaths. Subsequently the government removed all Ahmadis, including Zafarullah Khan from prominent official posts. For the next two decades, the campaign against the Ahmadi proceeded haltingly, staggering between occasional local tensions and evolving political agendas. [Source: Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University, The Conversation, August 8, 2018]

“In 1974, however, the town of Rabwah became the epicenter of antagonism. Following riots targeting Ahmadis in many parts of Pakistan, Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto – among the least religiously inclined of Pakistan’s leaders – bowed to Islamist pressure to make constitutional amendments declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Later in 1984, legislation prohibited Ahmadi from proselytizing or even professing their beliefs. Matters worsened a year later when the government divided Pakistan’s electorate into “Muslim” and “non-Muslim.” This required voters to declare whether they accepted Muhammad as the final prophet. Ahmadi who declared themselves Muslim faced penalties. The bottom line is since 1985 most have not participated in an election. Casting a vote would require them to explicitly denounce themselves as non-Muslims, which would have its own consequences.

“What is important to understand is that the roots of the current electoral conflict do not inherently lie either in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s message nor the Ahmadiyya community. The conflict emerges from an ideology of nationalism that inherently promotes a sense of belonging in its citizens, at the risk of exclusion of certain “outsiders.” As Britain abandoned South Asia in 1947, Pakistan’s founders established a secular state meant to protect Muslims as a separate homeland from the political threats they saw in a Hindu-majority India. Certain Islamist political groups and politicians combined religious identity, language and symbols to foster national unity.

“Specific domestic religious groups were targeted as the enemy of the public in order to garner popular support. In 2011, Pakistan was ranked at the top on Pew Research Center’s index on social hostilities involving religion. The Ahmadis were one targeted group. Just as the Trump administration questions the loyalty of Muslim-Americans and simultaneously defines “true” Americans, increasing numbers of Pakistani politicians and Islamists after 1947 portrayed the Ahmadis negatively in order to project themselves as protectors of “true” Muslim Pakistanis.. By 2012, only 7 percent of Pakistanis considered Ahmadis as Muslims.

In Rabwah, the Ahmadis's Desert City

Ahmadiyya has many followers in the town of Rabwah in the Punjab, where the movement originated in 1889. Some lived nearby and elsewhere in the Punjab. Other followers live in Sindh. Myra MacDonald of Reuters wrote: Rabwah is “the town the Ahmadis built when they fled the killings of Muslims in India at Partition in 1947, and believing themselves guided by God, chose a barren stretch of land where they hoped to make the Punjab desert bloom. Affluent and well-educated, they started out camping in tents and mud huts near the river and the railway line.Now they have a town of some 60,000 people, a jumble of one- and two-storey buildings, along with an Olympic size swimming pool, a fire service and a world class heart institute. [Source: Myra MacDonald, Reuters, July 15, 2011]

“The town, renamed Chenabnagar by the state government since “Rabwah” comes from a verse in the Quran, is now retreating behind high walls and razor wire, awaiting the suicide bombers and fedayeen gunmen who police tell them are plotting attacks.’ After the May 2011 attacks in which more than 80 people were killed in two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, many “fled to Rabwah where the community gives them cheap housing and financial support.

“At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan’s oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use — words like Muslim and Islam. “The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published,” explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan”.

“Many of the Ahmadis had been active supporters of the movement which created Pakistan and when they first came here they were inspired by a verse in the Quran, describing “an elevated land of green valleys and springs of running water.” Now they are surrounded by a very different country.

“Rabwah itself is open to the outside world — despite the high walls guarding individual houses, it is not a walled town. Beyond, low jagged hills spike up above the dusty land, the summits of much bigger rock formations below the surface. “Under the circumstances we try to take the best measures we can to protect ourselves,” says the amir. “But what we can do is very limited. We don’t have a mindset or training for that.And in any case, he adds, “How many people can leave Pakistan or Rabwah?” Yet in the newspaper office in Rabwah, a white board displays the words they are not allowed to use — they could be accused of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty.

Discrimination Against the Ahmadis

Peter Gottschalk of Wesleyan University wrote: “Ahmadis have been the targets not only of electoral discrimination but also of vandalism against their places of worship. They have been accused of blasphemy, and laws have made it illegal for them to recite the Quran. They are also not allowed to have Islamic inscriptions on headstones, or even call their places of worship “mosques.” Many have despaired of finding acceptance in their national homeland and emigrated to other nations. In Pakistan, as the recent election shows, they continue to struggle with a nationalist politics of exclusion. [Source: Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University, The Conversation, August 8, 2018]

State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan has been among the most vocal opponents of Ahmadi inclusion into a new government commission for minorities set up in 2020. "If they want to avail constitutional rights they must accept the constitution first," Khan told Reuters in a text message. "The Pakistani constitution considers them non-Muslims." Khan said in a now-deleted Twitter post: "There is only one punishment for insulting the Prophet — chopping off the head". [Source: Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam, Reuters, May 7, 2020]

Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The plight of the Ahmadi community provides a window onto the intolerance that permeates Pakistani society. Ahmadis say the risk they face is heightened by the fact that, in a society where hard-line religious parties wield unchallenged clout, they are viewed as traitors to Islam. “As a result of Zia’s decrees, the state facilitated the mullahs who were already against us,” said Syed Mehmood, spokesman for the Ahmadi community in Faisalabad. “That’s when the persecution started. Hundreds of Ahmadis were jailed just because they said Salaam aleykum.” [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010]

“ Laws that brand Ahmadis, a minority regarded elsewhere in the world as a Muslim sect, as non-Muslims only serve to breed intolerance within Pakistani society, large segments of which are illiterate and easily swayed by radical imams and the country’s powerful patchwork of religious parties.”

Prejudice Against Ahmadis

Myra MacDonald of Reuters wrote: who face increasing threats of violence across Pakistan as the country strained by a weakening economy, an Islamist insurgency and internecine political feuds, fractures down sectarian and ethnic lines. “The situation is getting worse and worse,” says Mirza Khurshid Ahmed, amir of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. “The level of religious intolerance has increased considerably during the last 10 years.” [Source: Myra MacDonald, Reuters, July 15, 2011]

“Many Pakistanis, if you ask about treatment of the Ahmadis, shrug it off — it’s an old story, they say, dredged up by westerners who do not appreciate the importance of the finality of the Prophet. Yet there are signs the attitudes first directed toward Ahmadis are spreading to other sects. In a country which is majority Sunni, and where insurgents follow Sunni Islam, Shi’ites and even Sufi shrines have been bombed. In the nearest town to Rabwah, the central square as been renamed “Khatme Nubuwwat” Chowk, meaning the finality of the Prophet.

Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Ahmadis say they don’t expect much help from city police, who they say have shown little interest in solving crimes committed against their community Rao Sardar, a top Faisalabad police official, said it’s not a question of police indifference but a simple matter of manpower. The Faisalabad district has a police force of 7,000 officers charged with securing a population of 8 million, he said. That’s a very low ratio, and that’s the problem,” Sardar said. “We’re doing all we can do.” [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010]

Attacks Against the Ahmadis

Alex Rodriguez wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “A neighborhood’s lack of reaction to an act of persecution against an Ahmadi often provides an example of that intolerance. A year ago, Laeeq Ahmed was driving home from work when, a few hundred yards from his house, gunmen sprayed his car with bullets. Ahmed’s wife, Nuzhat Laeeq, rushed to her husband, who was still alive but unconscious, and pleaded with bystanders to help. The crowd ignored her, she said. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010]

“Ahmed died the next day in a hospital. Later, witnesses of the slaying described to Laeeq what had happened, how the gunmen had celebrated afterward by chanting, “We have killed an infidel!” Despite the presence of witnesses, however, the crime remains unsolved. “We believe that the government, its legal system and the people here won’t help us,” Laeeq said, speaking in a hushed, quavering voice behind a black veil. “The police won’t give us any kind of investigation. We have left our fate, and this case, up to God.”

Myra MacDonald of Reuters wrote: Among those living in Rabwah “is 15-year-old Iqra from Narewal, whose shopkeeper father was stabbed to death” in 2010 as the family slept. “I was sleeping in another room when my father was attacked,” she begins in a small voice, pulling a black scarf across her face to cover her mouth in the style of Ahmadi women. “The attacker wanted to kill all the Ahmadis in Narewal,” her brother Zeeshan continues. “My elder brother tried to help my father and he was stabbed and wounded too.” Later police found the attacker hiding in a mosque. He had believed the mullahs when they told him that all Ahmadis were “wajib ul qatl”, or deserving of death. [Source:Myra MacDonald, Reuters, July 15, 2011]

Attacks on the Ahmadis Kills 97

In May 2010, Pakistani Taliban gunmen stormed two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, and killed more than 90 people (97 according to to one reported) with gunfire, grenades and suicide bombings. Associated Press reported: “Islamist militants attacked two mosques packed with hundreds of Ahmadi worshippers, holding hostages and battling police, officials and witnesses said. Dozens were wounded in the worst attack ever against the Ahmadi sect. The assaults in Lahore were carried out by at least seven men, including three suicide bombers, officials said. Two attackers were captured. At one point, a gunman fired bullets from atop a minaret. It was one of the first times militants have deployed gun and suicide squads and taken hostages in a coordinated attack on a religious minority in Pakistan. [Source: Associated Press, May 28, 2010]

“The attacks took place in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu neighborhoods of Lahore. The assault at Model Town was relatively brief, and involved four attackers spraying worshippers with bullets before exploding hand grenades, said Sajjad Bhutta, Lahore’s deputy commissioner. Several kilometers away at Garhi Shahu, the standoff lasted around four hours. TV footage showed an attacker atop a minaret of the mosque at one point in the siege, firing an assault rifle and throwing hand grenades. Outside, police traded bullets with the gunmen, an Associated Press reporter saw.

“Luqman Ahmad, 36, was sitting and waiting for prayers to start when he heard gunshots and then an explosion. He quickly lay down and closed his eyes. “It was like a war going on around me. The cries I heard sent chills down my spine,” Ahmad said. “I kept on praying that may God save me from this hell.” After police commandos announced the attackers had died, he stood to see bodies and blood everywhere. “I cannot understand what logic these terrorists have by attacking worshippers, and harmless people like us,” he said.

“Bhutta said at least three attackers held several people hostage inside the Garhi Shahu mosque. The three wore jackets filled with ammunition. “They fought the police for some time, but on seeing they were being defeated they exploded themselves,” he said. Two attackers were caught, and one was being treated for wounds, Punjab province police chief Tariq Saleem Dogar said.An initial investigation found that one detained suspect was from southern Punjab but had studied at a religious school in the port city of Karachi, Punjab’s law minister said.

“Geo TV reported that the Punjab province branch of the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility, however, such attacks often spur unverifiable claims of responsibility from various groups.” Other Ahmadis were attacked elsewhere in the province.

Fear Among Ahmadis

Reporting from Faisalabad, a city of 8 million in Pakistan, Alex Rodriguez wrote in in the Los Angeles Times: “Rifles slung over their shoulders, the guards pacing in front of Naeem Masood’s fabric shop glower at anyone who walks by. It’s not thieves or vandals that Masood is worried about. He needs protection from assassins. In April, the 29-year-old boyish-faced Pakistani found his father, brother and uncle slumped over in the seats of their car, their faces and chests riddled with more than 60 bullets. All of them were dead, victims of what Ahmadis in their Faisalabad enclave say was a deadly warning from extremists: Renounce your sect or leave the city. [Source: Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2010]

“As a result of the killings of the three Ahmadi businessmen in April, along with recent kidnappings and other acts of violence against Ahmadis, community members routinely change their routes to and from home, vary the time of day they arrive and leave work, and lie when asked on the phone about their whereabouts. Many of them have put their social lives — going to parties, meeting friends for lunch or tea — on hold.

At Zaheer Malik’s Toyota dealership, a gleaming glass and silver-paneled building out of place amid the cinder-block merchant stalls on the outskirts of Faisalabad, tall, broad-shouldered armed guards stand watch in the parking lot as well as at the foot of the stairs leading to Malik’s second-floor office. Malik, a wealthy Pakistani Ahmadi in his mid-30s, says he has received several threats recently, including one in May in which a man came to the showroom and urged his driver to quit. “They told him, ‘Your boss is not a Muslim and we might do something to him,’ ” Malik said. ‘It’ll be better if you leave the job. We don’t want you to die with him.’

“For last the month, I can’t go to the gym, I can’t go anywhere to have dinner, can’t go to parties, I just stay home,” Malik said. “Every day I’m changing schedules, changing cars. Every day I’m telling someone I’m in Lahore when I’m really in Faisalabad, or I’m in Dubai when I’m actually in Karachi.”

Omar Ahmed, 27, keeps a pistol with him at all times and stations armed guards outside his jewelry store. Ahmed took over the shop after his father, Ashraf Pervez, was killed in the same hail of bullets that killed Masood’s father, Masood Javed, and his brother, Asif Masood. Ahmed says that if he could leave Pakistan, he would. But his predicament is the same as Naeem Masood’s: As elder sons, they have to stay for the sake of their families and the family businesses. “We’re in a battlefield every day,” Ahmed said. “We have to live with the fact that we are Ahmadis.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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